U.K. Cable Giant Virgin Media Strikes Carriage Deal for BT Sport Networks

The company owned by John Malone's Liberty Global will offer the new channels that compete with BSkyB, of which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns 39 percent.

LONDON – Just in time for the start of the English soccer league season this weekend, U.K. telecom giant BT and Virgin Media, owned by John Malone's Liberty Global, struck a deal that will make the former's new sports networks available to most of Virgin's 3.8 million TV subscribers.

The BT Sport channels are new competition for pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake. Both companies have TV rights to games of the English Premier League soccer league, with BSkyB remaining the provider of the vast majority of matches.
Financial terms of the three-year Virgin carriage deal for the BT Sport channels, launched earlier this month, weren't disclosed.

The wholesale agreement came just days after BT said that more than 1 million U.K. homes have  signed up for the BT Sport channels, which come free for the company's broadband subscribers.

The agreement will enable Virgin to provide BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN, whose U.K. network BT acquired earlier this year, to around 3 million households with a certain service package.

Virgin has a total of 3.8 million TV subscribers. The agreement also allows Virgin to offer the channels as a premium service to its other pay TV subscribers.
Said BT TV CEO Marc Watson: "I am delighted we have signed a deal with Virgin Media that increases the audience for BT Sport to around three million homes overnight. BT has made a large investment in BT Sport, and this is an important commercial agreement for us that recognizes the excellence of the channels."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com